The One Thing


I just finished listening to The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan and it's had a pretty big impact on my mentality and actions over the past week and I think it could do the same for you! The book takes the idea that adopting a singular mindset can increase your chances of achieving success and then sets out to provide the context to support that idea. 

Highlights of this book are that it's relatively short (for a self-improvement book) and full of tangible and actionable ideas. Read a full book review here. Today I just want to talk about the concept of The One thing and how it's currently affecting my life.
As the book's title is self-explanatory, The One Thing is largely about focus and priority. Nothing new or novel here, but the authors chose to approach these topics from a singular and minimal approach. Where David Allen's Getting Things Done can feel exhaustive and complicated, The One Thing addresses the same topics and solutions through identifying the one and only most important task.
For those with a type A personality like myself, creating lists, researching, prioritization and action isn't a problem. The rut I seem to fall into time and time again is focusing and narrowing down on a single action that should be my 'One Thing'. As a designer faced with endless tools and technology, growing professional competition and the feeling that I must specialize in one area, I am frequently wondering what I should be doing.


In The One Thing, Keller and Papasan begin by asking a question: "What is the one thing, that by doing it will make everything else easier or unnecessary?" The beauty of this question is that there is only one answer, and it's not terribly difficult to answer. As a freelancer and consultant, the answer is find fewer clients with bigger budgets. This allows me to work less (or at least have fewer balls in the air at once) while offering the mental clarity and time for me to do my best work.
Answering the one thing question makes deciding what to do next easy.
What can answering the one thing question do for you besides help you prioritize? Keller and Papasan continued to explain how you can reverse-engineer any goal you might have using the one thing question. 
For example: "What's the one thing I can do to reach my professional goal in the next:

  • 5 years?"
  • 2 years?"
  • year?"
  • 6 months?"
  • month"
  • week?"
  • day"
  • hour?"

By answering each question from top to bottom, you identify, prioritize and break big goals into manageable steps.


The other great part about The One Thing, is that it's not about what you can do, but what you should do. If there's one thing that's most important to helping you reach your goal, there's no sense in spending an equal amount of time doing the things that are less important. 
By deconstructing the whole 10,000 hours study that I'm sure you've heard of, Keller and Papasan claim that once you've identified your one thing, you should spend a minimum of 4 hours on it every day. This is a lot of time. It puts into perspective how much time is needed to become excellent at something. Anyone who's a professional should be spending 4 hours a day or more at his or her craft. Do you spend 4 hours a day doing your one thing? I don't always spend a minimum of 20 hours per week on my one thing, but I'm trying to. Since finishing The One Thing, I've been focused on putting in a minimum of 4 hours on my one thing. It's like a new daily challenge and I'm enjoying seeing the results of such consistent work.
As promised, I'll have a full review of The One Thing soon. Until then, I want to challenge you to identify what your one thing is. See if it's aligned with your bigger long-term goals. Then start putting in 4 or more hours of work each day on your one thing.
If you're interested in checking out The One Thing, here's an Amazon link.
If you're like me and you don't have much time to read but prefer to listen, consider trying a free Audible 30-day trial. And if you already know what's up and have an Audible account, here's a link to The One Thing audio book.